tv PBS News Hour PBS August 31, 2010 7:00pm-8:00pm EDT
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> lehrer: good evening. i'm jim lehrer. president obama addresses the nation as the u.s. combat mission ends in iraq. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. on the newshour tonight, we get the analysis of mark shields and david brooks. >> lehrer: and margaret warner in baghdad examines the challenges iraqis still face in their daily lives. >> woodruff: then, from mexico city, we learn the latest on the arrest of an alleged drug lord from jason beaubien of npr. >> lerher: we have another in john merrow's reports on the washington, d.c., schools. tonight he looks at a new test for teachers. >> how can you possibly have a system where the vast majority of adults are running around thinking i'm doing an excellent job when what we're producing for kids is 8% success.
>> woodruff: and jeffrey brown updates the story of new orleans musician and scholar michael white, five years after katrina. >> i went through a serious period of depression, of anger, of many different kinds of emotions. ♪ and then i came to realize the most valuable thing that i have i never lost. it's inside. it's that music tradition. >> lehrer: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> lehrer: this was the day president obama set some time ago for ending american combat operations in iraq.
he will mark his vow in an address to the nation this evening. newshour correspondent kwame holman begins our coverage. >> reporter: it was march of 2003 when u.s. troops invaded iraq and the long war began. tonight after seven-and-a-half years, the president is set to say the u.s. role in active fighting is over. ahead of his prime-time oval office address, mr. obama traveled to the army's fort bliss in el paso texas today. over the years 200,000 troops have deployed from there to iraq. >> i'm going to make a speech to the nation tonight. it's not going to be a victory lap. it's not going to be self-congratulatory. but the fact of the matter is that because of the extraordinary service that all of you have done -- and so many people here at fort bliss have done--
iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself and america is more secure. >> reporter: during the 2008 presidential campaign mr. obama pledged to have u.s. combat forces out of iraq within 16 months of taking office. while that target slipped by a few months, white house officials still view today's announcement as a promise kept. in response, republicans focused on the troop surge that president bush ordered in 2007 and candidate obama opposed. house republican leader john boehner told the american legion convention in milwaukee mr. obama must put progress ahead of pullouts. >> using campaign promises as yardsticks to measure success in iraq and afghanistan runs the risk of triggering artificial victory laps and premature withdrawal dates unconnected to conditions on the ground. >> reporter: at that same convention, defense secretary robert gates also pointed to progress in iraq, but he counseled caution.
>> i'm not saying that all is or necessarily will be well in iraq. the most recent elections have yet to result in a coalition government. sectarian tensions remain a fact of life. al qaeda in iraq is beaten but not gone. this is not a time for premature victory parades or self-congratulations. >> reporter: in fact there's been a new spike in attacks since the iraqi elections ended with no clear winner last march. but vice president biden met with iraqi leaders in baghdad today and said things are much safer. and in a televised address prime minister nouri al-maliki said the end to u.s. combat operations is a key step to restoring iraqi sovereignty. >> i assure you that the iraqi security troops are capable and qualified to shoulder the responsibility , and the coward leiterorist acts that targeted civilians and state
institutions are but a desperate attempt by al qaeda and remains of the former regime. >> reporter: in all, some 50,000 u.s. troops will remain in iraq in an advise other role. that's down from 140,000 when president obama took office and a peak of 165,000 when 2007. the current agreement between the u.s. and iraq calls for all american troops to leave by the end of next year. secretary gates said today it's important to remember all those who have served especially the more than 4,000...4,400 killed and the thousands wounded. >> the courage of these men and women , their determination , their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of their families along with the service and sacrifice of so many others in uniform have made this day, this transition possible.
and we must never forget it. ( applause ) >> reporter: the president is expected to offer his own tribute in his address at 8:00 p.m. eastern time. >> lehrer: and to some pre- speech analysis by shields and brooks: syndicated columnist mark shields and "new york times" columnist david brooks. david, there's been some punditry today which says this could very well be the toughest speech president obama will ever have to make. do you buy that? >> i don't know about ever. but the pundits are amazingly sage ful most of the time. it's a tough speech because it's a straddle speech. things are stable in iraq but not too stable. we're leaving iraq but we're not abandoning iraq. we're paying attention close to home the budge' it close to them but we're still fighting terror abroad. he has to do all that balancing. obama is a guy who loves on the one-and-/on the other hand formulations. i expect we'll hear a lot of that. that makes it hard to write a speech. >> lehrer: difficult, do you agree, mark? >> i hadn't thought of it as
being difficult, jim. it's obviously a speech he's giving voluntarily. >> lehrer: he didn't have to do it. >> he did not have to do this. it is at a time when the administration is looking for successes. this is a box you can check off, a promise made, a promise kept. but i think it's an awkward speech for the president because the president still believes and argued throughout his career and certainly in his presidential campaign that it was a pre-emptive war, it was indefensible, that it was a national catastrophe. that the united states went to war against a country that had never threatened the united states, never attacked the united states, had no weapons of mass destruction, represented no threat to the united states, had nothing to do with 9/11. and it damage the united states. it left the united states with less ability to put together a coalition elsewhere, with less respect in the world with less capacity militarily, with a depleted military. to say now the success that....
>> lehrer: never mind all of that. >> i think in that sense it's awkward. >> lehrer: how is he going to deal with that? the fact he was so opposed to this? some people would suggest it was his opposition to the war that helped him get elected in the first place. >> he was opposed to the surge which has gotten us to where we are today. i think he'll just ignore all of that and focus on the future. iraq is at the moment the seventh fastest growing economy on the earth according to the economist magazine the fourth most democratic nation on the earth. to have a democratic prosperous iraq in the middle east would be a big deal. we're only halfway there. the policy substance of the speech which is worth paying attention to is, what do we do about next year? he has made a promise that everybody will be out. all our troops will be out at the end of next year. there is a lot of fierce opposition to that within the military and amongst some non-partisan policy hands who say we've made a lot of progress over the past two years. all of that will be in jeopardy if we leave entirely in the next year because they
still need us as the way the people in bosnia needed a u.s. presence, the way the people in korea needed a u.s. presence. we've got to drag it out a little longer. so that's really the policy decision that i think is key. >> lehrer:. >> the families of the 4100 or the 40,000 who have been wounded and sometimes crippled from this war or the 100,000 more dead iraqis or the 2.5 million iraqis who have been dislocated in their own country as a result of their invasion and occupation or the two million iraqis who fled-- none of them, case made, we'll deal with this because you have the 7th growing fastest economy in the world. that was never... it was a bogus pretext war. i think that makes a real problem. but david is right in the sense that the president has to deal now with the reality, i think, the transition to afghanistan. i don't see how anybody can look at iraq and say it's a success. and to straddle that and to go
to afghanistan is i think very, very difficult. >> lehrer: how do you read the fact that the most recent polls, mark i wrote them down here that the majority of the american people, 54% or so think the war was a mistake to begin with. in other words, they agree with barack obama on the basic thing. i'm talking about today. 64% think it wasn't worth the 4400 lives and the $750 billion of cost. how to fit that in to all of this? >> that's a complication. i mean , i think there is a policy decision has to be made, are we going to try this again? is this going to be... is this aed model for the future? i mean a pre-emptive war? the latest i saw, jim, is a cbs news poll completed august 24 that said 72% of americans said it was not worth the cost. the only americans who believe it was worth the cost are republicans. independents by 2 to 1 say it wasn't. democrats by 4 to 1 say it wasn't. >> lehrer: how do you read that?
>> i don't know if it was worth the cost. i don't think anybody knows or that is the basis of knowing. i do know for the first four or five years of the war it was fought horribly. it created the deaths that mark referred to, the destruction that mark referred but in the last three years have produced tremendous gains both in terms of democracy in terms of 90% reduction of violence, in terms of economy in a country that seems to be fragilely heading in the right direction. i'm sorry about the fact that iraq at the crossroads of the arab world became a democratic healthy nation. that would be a huge deal. that's where we are now. that's the decision we face now. >> lehrer: forget how we got? >> we'll have the debate 30 years from now about the relative costs. right now it was not worth it. right now if you measure the costs and the deaths both here and in iraq it was not worth worth it. if 30 years from now we look to iraq as a healthy nation, a democratic nation which spawned some ripples-- and i'm not sure if that will happen, but then probably people will
say that it was a worth that was fought horribly for knife years but then america figured out how to fight it. if that's the judgment it will be like the judgment of a lot of wars which we fought horribly at first. >> lehrer: this interim speech tonight is a interim speech not a final speech. it won't resolve all the questions. >> not in 15 minutes. >> the old max i am, jim, an army doesn't fight a war. a country fights a war. if a country isn't will to go fight a war it should never send an army. the united states was will to go fight this war. we did not in any way tax ourselves to way for it. it's unpaid for. it's a cost now of $3 trillion estimated in ultimate costs for it. and disunity nationally. and the whole sense of american national collective sacrifice has been compromised. >> lehrer: we'll see what the president says about it all. thank you. >> woodruff: still to come on the newshour, the scars of war for ordinary iraqis. the arrest of an alleged drug
kingpin in mexico. tests for teachers in the washington d.c. schools and a musical rebirth in new orleans. but first the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan in our news room. >> sreenivasan: five more american troops were killed in afghanistan today. that made 19 u.s. deaths in the last four days and 55 for the month of august. the total in july was 66 killed. word of the latest casualties came as general david petraeus, the top commander in afghanistan, acknowledged it's been slow going. >> it is very, very understandable that there would be impatience and desire to see progress right now. but the nature of these endeavors is such that that progress is slow. it's hard-fought. and as i mentioned earlier the fact is that we are just now for the first time getting the inputs right. >> sreenivasan: petraeus also said he shares afghan president hamid karzai's concern about threats from insurgents in pakistan.
the f.b.i. chased leads today on two arab men arrested in the netherlands after a flight from the u.s. american officials said it now appears they were not part of any terror plot. still, the dutch investigation continued full force. we have a report from martin geissler of independent television news. >> reporter: this is ahmed mohammed nasser al soofi filmed by a passenger as he was led off a flight by dutch police yesterday. he and his traveling companion have spent the past two days facing questions about their trip to holland and more specifically why al soofi sent a bag carrying what's been described as a mock bomb on a separate flight. bound for dubai and then yemen. the authorities here have been guarded with all but a few of the details they have at this stage. can you tell us how seriously it's being taken by the dutch authorities? >> seriously because we have arrested them. we're taken this seriously because otherwise we didn't arrest them. >> reporter: al soofi fell under suspicion as soon as he began his journey in alabama.
security agents searched his bag and found a phone tapeded to a bottle. some reports also suggest he carried knives, box cutters and watches taped together. as none of the items presented a danger on their own he was allowd to continue his journey. he flew first to chicago where his companion joined him. they were due to travel on to yemen via washington and dubai but at the last minute their destination changed to amsterdam. now their bags were going through washington and they weren't. that set alarm bells ringing again. this case is particularly sensitive here because it has real echos of another case. a nigerian accused of trying to blow up the amsterdam to detroit flight on christmas day as well as an airport connection. there were addresses in detroit and they're from yemen. he is said to have attended terror training camp there. dutch police say they're working closely with the american authorities on this case. they have until thursday night to decide whether there's enough evidence to bring charges.
>> sreenivasan: white house officials said today neither of the men was on a terror watch list in the u.s. in the middle east, a palestinian gunman killed four israelis in the west bank. it came on the eve of new middle east peace talks in washington. police said the shooter opened fire on a car, killing two men and two women. the militant group hamas claimed responsibility. the israeli government vowed to retaliate. from north carolina to new england, the east coast turned its attention to hurricane earl today. the second major storm of the atlantic season built up winds of 135 miles an hour. the big storm churned toward the u.s. mainland as it left the caribbean region in its wake. it battered puerto rico overnight after lashing various islands with strong winds and heavy downpours. but there was no word of any casualties in the caribbean. by this afternoon, forecasters projected earl was on track to make a close approach to cape hatteras north carolina late thursday just in time for the
labor day holiday weekend. i was expected to turn north and miss a direct land fall. still the in the national hurricane center urged coastal communities to keep an eye on the storm's path and evacuations remain possible if the storm wobbles to the west. local emergency management officials were already taking heed. >> everybody is is ready and we're watching it. we're crossing our fingers that it doesn't impact the weekend and everybody can enjoy it. once again people really need to pay attention to what's going on over the next couple days. >> reporter: for now earl was generating heavy surf and rip- current warnings in several states. close behind the hurricane, another tropical storm, fiona, neared the caribbean today. it was expected to stay farther out in the atlantic. wall street has closed out its worst august in nine years. the dow jones industrial average gained five points to close at 10,014. the nasdaq fell nearly 6 points to close at 2114. and the price of oil continued its recent slide, falling below $72 a barrel. those are some of the day's major stories.
now, back to judy. >> woodruff: now, back to the iraq story. margaret warner continues her reporting from there as iraqis take more control of their security. today margaret talks with iraqis around the country about how safe they are now feeling. >> warner: one of the great delicacies of iraqi cuisine is fresh fish, split opened, sliceded and oiled and grilled over an open wood flame for an hour. during baghdad's years of bloodshed, this popular park along the tigris river was shut down. restauranteurs like this man left town. now he's back doing what he loves best. >> people just want to go out and enjoy themselves. they are sick and tired of the situation. they want back again. >> reporter: among his customers this hot baghdad night he and his wife are relieved to be out. >> we don't go after two years ago any place. any place.
>> warner: do you feel safer? >> yes. >> a little bit safer. >> more than before. >> when we go with the whole family it's different. but alone, no. >> warner: make no mistake about it. baghdad retains the feel of a garrison city. drivers must navigate a maze of blast walls, check points and roving iraqi convoys. many buildings bear the bullet and mortar scars of seven years of fighting and occupation. and bombs still explode almost daily. its people, too, bear the scars and trauma of war. none more so, says activist hannah edward, than women. >> we have over one million women are widows becse of the violent situation after 2003. this is a lot for the country. the widows have no incomes, no source of incomes.
there are children. they have children. >> warner: one of those widows, 40-year-old . in 2006 her police officer husband and their two young sons were abducted by insurgents. >> they took him out of the car and chained him to the back. took him to some ruins near the highway and slaughtered him in front of his kids. after they slowly killed him they cut off his head in front of them. >> warner: since then, she and the children have been living on the edge and not just financially. her house in baghdad wasality the center of the inter-ethnic carnage that exploded that same year. >> bullets were flying everywhere. sometimes they hit inside the house. we had to lock the doors, sit inside the room and listen to the sound of bullets. i didn't have a weapon. my husband was dead and i was so scared. someone would come inside and kill us. >> warner: during the height of the sectarian violence in
baghdad this traffic circle was a war zone. killings, car bombs, suicide attacks-- this neighborhood saw an average of 40 bodies a day pile up in its streets. now it's quite a different picture. army and police patrol the streets in convey ... convoys and on foot. markets are coming back and are so some shoppers. 33-year-old dentist and mother is shopping for shoes with her sister. >> we see the guards here, the policemen, more. they're in the market. you can feel safe here. two years, three years ago we don't go. alone. >> warner: security is so improved, she says, that she can now see her dental patients in the evening. but still she feels confined. since police set up random security roadblocks without warning. >> it could be closed.
you can't stay in your car with your kids this hot. you stay two hours sometimes in your car. >> warner: if they shut down the neighborhood.... >> don't. >> warner: you're locked out. >> it's locked. >> warner: more than a million other professional iraqis who couldn't deal with the violence or frustration fled the country. hannah edward says iraq's middle class hasn't recovered . >> they are suffering from poverty, from displacement of enduring the sectarian war. many of them run away from the country. >> warner: the lack of predictable security also holds back the economy and jobs. with just a ninth grade education, another widow is now learning computer skills. >> my dream is to get a job with a good salary, to be something in this society and support my children. >> warner: do you think it
will be possible to find a job? >> i could get a minor job but nothing to fulfill my dream. we have students male and female who graduate from universities and they can't find a job. >> warner: do you want to stay in iraq? or if you had the opportunity, would you want to leave? >> i would definitely leave. it's just too difficult to live in iraq. everything is difficult. >> warner: things are quite different in the ancient holy city of najaf, 100 miles south of baghdad. it attracts shiite pilgrims from throughout the islamic world. this thursday night outside the shrine of amam ali
thousands have gathered to break the daily fast of ramadan. after picnicking on roasted chicken and rice, they relax for hours, visiting with family and friends and with us . najaf was brutalized in the time of saddam hussein and saw its share of post invasion bloodshed too. yet college students note when explosions hit, more than a dozen iraqi cities the day before, the holy cities of the shiite south were untouched. >> we are all shiites here so we feel safe and secure. we come to najaf to visit the shrine of ali or to car bol a to visit the shrine of hussein because they are holy places for the shiite people. we feel safe. >> warner: under a tent nearby, this man and his family are resting in the cool of a misting fan. >> four years ago we could not go out after a certain hour.
not because we told you not to but because you were too scared to go out. now in car bol a, you can go out any time. >> warner: his mother agreed... up to a point. >> i feel totally safe. our area is just as safe for women as it is for men. >> warner: but she is still haunted. >> i can say this to you. iraqi women are tired. tired of this situation. as mothers and sisters we're always living in fear. when our sons or brothers go anywhere, especially if they go to baghdad, we worry all the time. that's why iraqi women are so tired . >> warner: these najaf women didn't look tired later that evening at the brand new mirage mall down the road. clad in their full-length clothes they scooped up the american-packaged cosmetics, clothes and baby wares. >> if you check with the cashier everyday they have more goods here. >> warner: this man of dear
born heights michigan just openeded this mall three weeks ago. it's najaf's first. at 10:30 on a thursday night it's mobbed. he never would have dared make this investment two or three years ago. >> najaf is different than baghdad. the business has become very good. >> warner: he credits the local government for enforcing a high level of security. but he says the war-scarred people of najaf are a factor too. >> they understand because if anything happens they know. >> warner: the governor of najaf isn't a bit modest about his role in bringing security to this region. with an iron hand when need be. >> we are not against anybody, the islamic, secular, liberals. i told them you are free to work, to do something. get an education, culture, anything.
security is the issue of our government. >> warner: he's also quick to share credit with najaf's shiite clergy and tribal leaders. >> the clergy has the power on the people . they always taught their people to respect their government, to respect. >> warner: back in the sectarian stew of baghdad, the dentist doesn't share the same faith in iraq's central government or iraqi society. to bring about a better life. >> who will change it? nobody will change it. >> warner: you don't think the government ever will be strong enough and capable enough? >> we have 30 years. from the day i born, we have wars, killings . 30 years the same. we need up to 100 years we need to change the condition. >> warner: well, i hope you're wrong. >> i don't think so. i don't think so.
ask my mom and my grandmother. it was the same. i will ask my children and their children. it will be the same. believe me. iraq is cursed. believe it. it is cursed. >> warner: there was no such fatalism on display amid the friday night crowd at the popular ice cream shop in central baghdad. banana splits and double dip cones were being served up with a smile from behind bullet-proof glass. taking in the scene with his new baby, this man says he feels safe... enough. >> the situation is good in general but sometimes it's really good. sometimes it's really really bad. so it's a 50-50 chance. >> warner: he gets better odds on a brighter future for his country.
god willing, he said, but iraqis will have to do the work. >> lehrer: tomorrow margaret will have a conversation with vice president biden who is in iraq. >> woodruff: now to another country right next to the united states that also is coping with violence. mexican officials have announced the arrest of a major target in that country's drug wars. march for the cameras this morning under heavy guard, edgard val degrees was a long way from his high school football days in texas. his coach had nicknamed him the barbie for his green eyes and fair skin. the moniker stuck. but now at 37 years old, he stands accused as one of mexico's top drug traffickers. the alleged king pin was arrested yesterday outside mexico city without incident. >> this arrest is the result of intelligence work in
actions carried out by the federal police. throughout this investigation we exchanged information with various united states agencies as well as the national defense and navy secretary and the attorney general's office. >> woodruff: the arrest was a rare success for mexico's president felipe calderon. his government has waged a war against drug cartels since 2006 and nearly 30,000 people have been killed. valdez had been locked in a vicious war of succession within the belltron-lava cartel. one of them died in a hail of gun fire last december as mexican authorities closed in on him. u.s. authorities had put a $2 million bounty on valdez. there was no word on whether he would be extradited. for more on the arrest, we're
joined by national public radio's jason beaubien in mexico city. jason, thank you for walking with us. first of all, they caught him alive. how significant is that? >> it is very significant because obviously he can be important in terms of other investigations, in terms of digging in to the workings of these cartels. yes, it's very important that they caught him alive. and the hope is that they will be able to get more information about the functioning of other cells, other parts of the organization that had splintered after the one man was gunned down by the mexican marines in december of 2009. >> woodruff: how big a victory is this for the mexican government? >> this is really huge in terms of the timing. for president calderon, he really needed a good-news story at the moment. last week you had the worst massacre in the entire drug car with 72 migrants killed by the zetas, one of the drug cartels that operates primarily just below brownsville, texas.
they actually operate all over mexico. that's sort of their home base. they're accused of gunning down 72 migrants. that's obviously the worst massacre that has occurred in what is is an incredibly bloody drug war here. just the same day that valdez was captured there was a 12-hour gun battle that went on just below in veer a cruz in which the army was trying to catch these gunmen. this went on almost all day. there's a sense in mexico that things have really gotten out of control when terms of security. when you get out and talk to people it's the main concern that people have. this capture of valdez for calderon is a chance to say, look, we are making progress. we're bringing down some of these top leaders. and have faith in us. even though it's getting more and more violent, if we push forward, we can succeed. >> woodruff: valdez was an interesting background. he was born in texas. he played high school football. tell us more about that. >> yes.
by all accounts he grew up in a very middle class environment in laredo, texas. he went on to become a small- time marijuana dealer on the northern side of the border in the u.s., in texas. then he got in with the mexican cartels and really took off from there. his ability to move between the two worlds was quite effective. officials here say that when he was captured yesterday, he was moving a ton of cocaine into the united states. he moved very rapidly through the ranks. originally he was with one cartel and then when the bell tran-lavas broke away he came with him and was one of their leaders of a group of hitmen that they had called called loz negros. he's known as one of the most brutal men in this drug war in a drug war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed. he's accused of orchestrating the murders of hundreds of
people through this group, those negros that worked for the belltran-lava. when artruro was run down he was trying to split off and run his own cartel. >> woodruff: and trying to set up his own drug operation. i was reading that there were a number of people who were happy to turn in information about him. >> when he broke away from the belltran-lavas-- they were falling apart-- it became incredibly bloody in the areas where they were working particularly just below mexico city. this is known as a sort of vacation resort for aate lot of people from mexico, from mexico city. it's a place that has a reputation for being very peaceful. well, valdez turned this into basically a war zone. he was fighting for control of these roots that the belltran- lavas had had, they were stringing up bodies off highway overpasses and decapitating their enemies.
it really did become incredibly violent. there's even a suggestion that maybe he was involved in turning in arturo and giving over information to the mexican navy so that they were actually able to take down belltran-lav, at this point his boss. it does appear that there's a lot of in-fighting going on. this is part of what president calderon is trying to do. it's trying to disrupt the structures of these cartels, knock them off at the top and break them into smaller groups that are easier for the government to contain and to control . >> woodruff: jason finally, quickly, we understand they're now planning to have him tried in the u.s. on... what would the charges be and why? >> well, he was facing charges in the u.s. for moving tons of cocaine interest the eastern seaboard between 2004 and 2006 so there was a standing indictment for him in the united states for drug smuggling. that would probably be the
main charge obviously that he would face. and there is a desire here to move him out of mexico so that he's not inside the prison system, not able to keep trying to gain power inside these cartels. >> woodruff: jason beaubien, we thank you for your reporting joining us from mexico city. >> you're welcome. >> lehrer: next, reforming the washington, d.c., public schools, a story john merrow, our special correspondent for education, has been telling over the last three years. here is his final report, which is about the d.c. teachers and how their work is being evaluated. >> reporter: cynthia rivers and 42 other professional evaluators are putting washington d.c.'s teachers to the test. >> teachers are worried .
there's a general feeling of anxiety about being evaluated. i write down everything that i hear and see the teacher doing. >> reporter: rivers and her colleagues, called master educators, are observing classrooms as part of chancellor michelle rhee's new way of evaluating teacher performance. she calls it impact. there's nothing quite like impact in public education anywhere in the united states. nowhere else can a teacher, even one who has tenure, lose his job immediately after receiving an ineffective rating. >> the wheels are in motion for action , and the time for dramatic change begins today. >> reporter: from the moment newly elected mayor adrian centy appointed michelle rhee chancellor in june 2007 she began making controversial changes to a system that's been failing for years. when she arrived just 12% of the district's 8th graders were reading at a proficient level. math scores were even worse.
only 8% proficient. families were leaving the public schools in droves with enrollment down by nearly one third over ten years. the mayor vowed to fix the schools and counted on rhee, a former nonprofit leader and classroom teacher to get the job done. >> i am going to run this district in a way that is constantly looking out for the best interests of the children and of the school. >> reporter: though rhee had no experience running a school district, she promised to bring business-style accountability to washington schools. >> in any other sector, employees are expected to meet certain outcomes or deliverables. everybody knows that if you don't meet those numbers, you go. >> reporter: in her first year alone, rhee fired more than 15% of her central office staff and replaced nearly one quarter of the city's principals. >> i'm terminating your principalship now.
>> reporter: in a move that angered many in the community, rhee shuttered 23 underenrolled schools for good. >> i'm telling you that you are not being serious about taking parent and community input into account. >> my commitment to the children of this city was regardless of all that noise that might come up, i'm going to continue to forge ahead. >> reporter: rhee then set her sights on a new teachers' contract stressing the need to remove ineffective teachers. her bold stance earned praise and attention from the national media but at home rhee's image suffered. this cover of "time" magazine left many of her teachers upset and angered d.c. teacher union leader george parker. >> this one shot gave the picture of sweep them all out. get rid of them. you can't fire your way to a great school system. >> reporter: parker and rhee spent almost three years negotiating the new contract.
they finally reached a deal in spring 2010 . teachers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract which guaranteed a 20% raise in salary that was retroactive with three years of back pay. another perk: teachers rated highly effective would be eligible for bonuses of up to $20,000. >> what would you like to do with it? >> reporter: what teachers gave up was traditional job security based on tenure and seniority. now if school budge hes are cut, the teachers hired last won't necessarily be the first to lose their jobs. >> it doesn't matter whether you have tenure or not. it doesn't matter if you taught her for 30 years or not, if you are not serving children well, we're going to let you go from the system. >> reporter: but it's something that michelle rhee did not have to negotiate with the union that's affecting teachers the most: her new evaluation system , impact.
in most places unions and school boards negotiate how teachers will be assessed. but not in washington d.c. in 1997 the city council gave the chancellor full control over evaluations with no oversight from the union. >> this evaluation instrument has created the highest level of fear i've ever seen among teachers anywhere. >> reporter: fear of? >> fear of being targeted for elimination. unjustly. >> reporter: across the country most public school teachers are observed by their principal or assistant principal once or twice a year. nearly every teacher receives at least a satisfactory rating. but in rhee's system every teacher is observed five times a year, three times by an administrator, twice by a master educator. those evaluations combined with student test scores result in a final rating. >> we've added more
objectivity to this process not only than we had before but i would argue that exists anywhere across the country. >> i think we are all.... >> reporter: special education teacher matt nagy that impact's unannounced observations have improved his classroom performance. >> every day i had to make sure that my objective was clear, that my kids knew it, not just the days i got observed. i think that made my classroom a little bit more consistent and they learned a little bit more this year than last year. my only issue is it's marketed as a growth tool for teachers. there wasn't as much resources to help that growth as i would have liked to see. >> reporter: although rhee says impact is designed to protect teachers from school politics, ben claims it hasn't. >> a principal at the middle school that i was working at this last year came up with a fictitious evaluation date, a fictitious conference date and entered in fraudulent scores for me. >> reporter: phantom
evaluation. he petitioned rhee's office. y vaent event ally the phony evaluation was removed. >> there's never going to be a perfect tool. if the bar is that if it has bugs in it, we can't implement it. you will literally never implement. >> reporter: in late july final evaluation scores were released. rhee fired 75 teachers for poor performance. 671 more were deemed minimally effective and given one year to improve or lose their jobs. that's nearly 20% of rhee's teaching force that could be out of work one year from now. does it surprise you that those numbers are so high? >> i didn't proffer any guesses at the front end to say it will be this percentage or that percentage. but when we took control of this school district in 2007, 8% of the 8th graders were operating on grade level in mathematics. 8%. and if you would have looked
at the performance evaluations of the adults in the system at the same time, you would have seen that 95% of them were being rated as doing a good job. how can you possibly have a system where the vast majority of adults are running around thinking i'm doing an excellent job when what we're producing for kids is 8% success. >> reporter: success is still a long way off. today just 12% of 8th graders are proficient in math. improvement in reading has also been slow in coming from 12% to 14%. however, enrollment has stabilized, thanks largely to increases in pre-k and kindergarten classes. rhee is is banking on her teacher evaluation system to produce larger gains. she's hoping that impact will become a national model. >> assuming that our success continues, then i think that people can put pressure on their state legislatures to say, maybe you need to move
teacher evaluations off the bargaining table. >> reporter: rhee recently earned a national stamp of approval when d.c. became one of 12 winners of the federal education grant "race to the top." but national teachers' union president randy wine garthen warns against following rhee's lead. >> chancellor rhee's leadership style is my way the highway. but i've never actually seen a school succeed over the long term where a school system succeed over a long term with that approach. it gets a lot of ink, but the approach that actually succeeds is one where people work together . >> reporter: rhee has made concerted effort to improve her relationship with d.c.'s teachers. but mistrust and fear linger. >> you know, she really gives the perception that she cares. but there's a disconnect between what she's saying to us locally or individually and what she's saying, you know, nationally and then to the media. >> reporter: some say it's not
a culture of accountability. it's a culture of fear. >> i think that if there is fear it's amongst the people who are saying, oh, gosh, i've gotten away with not doing such a good job for such a long time. now i can't do that anymore. those people should be feeling that way. >> reporter: ben earned impact's highest rating. >> i'm the kind of person michelle rhee wants working in d.c. p.s., yet the reality is i was fearful because principals i think are working in a culture of fear and that translates into a very hostile work environment for the majority of teachers in d.c. p.s.. >> reporter: it's too early to tell where michelle rhee's new evaluation system will result in better schools. fact, she might not be around long enough to find out. her boss, mayor adrian fenty is facing a tough primary challenge in september. if fenty loses, rhee may be out of a job.
a new mayor and a new chancellor could alter or even abandon many of her initiatives including impact. >> woodruff: finally tonight, the story of a new orleans musician and his efforts to keep a musical tradition strong, five years after katrina. jeffrey brown has our profile. >> so you can see where the water line was at the top of the door. >> brown: you mean the line right there. >> that's the highest point. that was at least nine feet sneef. >> brown: we first met michael white soon after hurricane katrina had destroyed his home in new orleans. as both musician and scholar, white had long been one of the best known champions of the new orleans jazz tradition. now he was living temporarily in houston and had returned to sift through his belongings to see if anything could be saved. >> this was my piano. i used to have rehearsals in
here. >> reporter: 30 years of collected photos, books and pees of musical history all destroyed. saddest of all, white's collection of clarinets. >> each instrument is like a person in here. its own sound. its own personality and moods almost. i couldn't bear to open those cases because to me .... >> brown: at that point five years ago white was unsure about his own future and that of his city. >> it's very difficult. everyone is trying to deal with just basic survival, you know, finding money to eat, places to stay, dealing with whatever illnesses or emotional trauma that remains. it's tough. ♪ >> brown: three months later michael white had decided to at least try to live in new orleans. he was eager to reunite with the other displaced musicians from his liberty brass band and resume teaching at xavier university.
still he faced numerous hurdles. >> they're sort of what i call the after-flow of the hurricane which is pretty much almost as bad as the hurricane itself. it's what happens after. you know, what happens after is... you have to face a lot of real problems like you're homeless. number two, that you have to figure out what's going to happen with your home. >> brown: his neighborhood was still a ghost town. there were doubts about whether enough students and faculty would return to xavier to make it a viable university again. now five years later, xavier university is rebuilt and thriving. but white's old neighborhood is still mostly empty. earlier this month he sold his house to the state for a modest sum of money. it's slateded for demolition. he's disheartened at just how little of new orleans has been rebuilt. >> to look at the state of much of the city, if you go
into a lot of neighborhoods off the big streets five years after katrina in an american city i think it is a great trajs de. i think it is a disgrace for the city to be in this condition now. i think that new orleans should be two or three times more along. >> brown: still white says he's glad he's back in new orleans and moving on with his life. >> for a long time, like many people, i went through a serious period of depression, of anger, of many different kinds of emotions . and then i came to realize the most valuable thing that i have i never lost. inside. it's that music tradition. it's the memory of all of those parades, of all of those older musicians who brought the spirit of new orleans' music and passed it on to me that i could help to pass it on to others. and the spirit of that music is with me every day. every time i play my
instrument, everything i ever knew and felt about new orleans is still alive. ♪ >> brown: white says that in the years since katrina, he's experienced a personal and musical rebirth , another new orleans tradition. last year he spent time at an artists' retreat. in a space of three weeks he wrote three dozen songs , more than he had written in his entire life. he's now recorded a number of them for a new cd titled "blue crescent." >> in the beginning all of the songs sounded sad, in the minor key. just horrible. and now i realize that was just letting go of a lot of that pain. but many of the songs became upbeat and optimistic. you know, there's a great metaphor in our jazz funeral tradition for recovery from katrina. we have slow and sad music when the body is coming out of the church. when it moves towards the cemetery or it's buried
there's joyous up-tempo music and dancing. the lesson from that is mourn the losses of katrina. don't forget them. but at the same time you're moving and transitioning to a greater state or existence. hopefully greater. >> brown: for michael white that greater existence means composing and performing new work while continuing to play and teach the old musical traditions of new orleans. >> lehrer: again the major developments of this day. president obama planned to address the nation >> lehrer: again, the major developments of the day. president obama planned to address the nation as the u.s. combat mission in iraq officially ended. six more american troops were killed in afghanistan, for a total of 56 in august. and hurricane earl advanced on the outer banks of north carolina. forecasters said it would swipe the coast, then turn north. the newshour is always online. hari sreenivasan, in our
newsroom, previews what's there. hari? >> sreenivasan: on art beat, watch a performance by michael white, and more of his interview with jeff. we've asked foreign policy and political experts to weigh in on president obama's speech. find that in a special annotated version of the text, along with full video of the address. and more from our team in baghdad on how ordinary iraqis feel about security in their country. plus a follow-up to our story on the art of negotiating. harvard law professor robert mnookin answered your questions. find that on paul solman's making sense page. all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. judy? >> woodruff: and that's the newshour for tonight. on wednesday, we'll have a newsmaker interview with vice president biden in iraq. i'm judy woodruff. >> lehrer: and i'm jim lehrer. we'll see you for the president's oval office address at 8:00 p.m. eastern time, plus online, and again here tomorrow evening. for now, thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs